A Festal Curriculum

This note about the Fundraising Feast from the U.H. (that is, the Unruly Headmaster, a.k.a., Mr. Sarr) was included in the Raggant Standard from April 19, 2017.


Some disciplines are more fun to train than others.

Getting up early? Hard.
Going to bed early? Harder.
Laughing when things look bleak? Super-hard.
Feasting? Hard. And easy. And requires clean-up. All of it.

Allow me to offer some context for my observation.

As Christians, we do a lot of asking. We ask God to save us, to sustain us, and to meet our needs, both small and great. This is right and good, and–when done in faith–it brings God great honor. He loves to work through the prayers of His saints. When He answers our prayers, then, it is right to give Him thanks. Feasting presents such an opportunity.

When we feast, we discipline our hearts. We consciously make merry, enjoying gifts that come from the Giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). These gifts often include good food and drink as well as other merrymaking souls around us. When we enjoy God’s good gifts with gratefulness, we honor Him.

Feasting also disciplines our minds. We consciously give God thanks with our words and our grateful actions. John Calvin suggested that fasting is effective for subduing the flesh while demonstrating contrition. In a similar fashion, feasting is good for us, too. When we feast, we respond deliberately to God’s blessing, and we do so with thankfulness, singing, fellowship and enjoyment. It takes “Thank You” to the next level.

I’m convinced that this needs to be a part of our curriculum. With the Raggants, we celebrate the start and end of school and Reformation Day with feasting. We throw in a Christmas party for good measure. And for the adults, we also have our Fundraising Feast. In this, we schedule a night for the adults in our immediate and extended school community to gather and enjoy some of God’s blessings to the school with full-throated (and full-bellied) gladness. Fittingly, we express additional needs as a school and invite the guests to be used of God to meet those needs.

But let’s not kid ourselves: this is hard work. From planning to putting up decorations to childcare to food service to cleanup, it’s hard work. And even for the guests, it’s our job to make sure our hearts are in a position to receive as well as to give. Fasting is a lot less mess. But this discipline of feasting is worth the effort it takes.

But I want the Raggants to be able to both ask well, and to receive well. Let’s show them how.

May God help us to receive well on May 5.

–Jonathan Sarr

Why Uniforms?

The following article was written by Mrs. Bowers and is included in the Raggant Standard from March 3, 2017.


When most people think of uniforms they conjure up ranks of faceless soldiers, grease-spattered and braces-bespeckled McDonald’s workers, or straight-laced English schoolchildren standing rank and file under a grey mizzle.

Certainly there is a type of uniform that seeks to flatten and deface–a bit like the Green Witch of Underland and her Earthmen, or the above instances. The point in these scenarios is to not be unique–to efface individuality in the interest of uniformity and obedience to orders (sometimes with life-or-death consequences).

I would like to argue not for uniform uniformity at ECS, but for harmony. As I was discussing this with Mrs. Higgins, she brought up the example of singing, and as we like singing here, it seemed an apt analogy. We love all the individuals of ECS with their quirks, strengths, weaknesses, and oddities–and we love all of that being present within our two choirs. However, the goal of a choir is harmony. We have some strong singers, but those strong singers need to learn to harmonize so everyone makes beautiful music together. There will come a time–within the school and without–for that individuality to shine, but that is not the primary emphasis of daily song, nor daily learning. Much like within the Church, we love the toe-ness of toes and the finger-nail-ness of fingernails–and sometimes we stub our toe and it has its moment of grandeur–but we are part of one body. Our students are part of one school–as they learn and are equipped, they are in it together, encouraging and edifying and challenging and even teaching one another. Our harmonizing of gifts and talents is liturgized (of course that’s a word) in our uniforms.

We desire blending in this sense, but we also want close-knit unity. Students can hit all their notes while casting a vicious sidelong glance. We may not be seeking the same uniformity of the military, but we are in a fight, and there are a lot of arrows being whittled around here. And what exactly is school for? It equips them to be winsome, deep-souled worshippers of the triune God. This is squire-academy for valiant fighters-in-training. We are part of the same squad, team, group, and unit–this is the training ground and boot camp for future battle, and as such, we come dressed for the occasion. This is not so kids won’t be distracted by others’ clothing choices (because you can’t prevent distraction in a world of squirrels and snowflakes), nor for the ease of knowing what to wear in the morning, and not to equalize the playing field of fashion (because the mayfly and Michael Jordan alone evidence that no playing field, animal or otherwise, is equalized).

It is to remind the students that this is their job–this is their people–this is their fight, and they are all in it. Little or big, fast or slow, older or younger, a uniform presents a physical, instant recognition of inclusion and solidarity.

Amongst this harmony and unity, we also seek clear identity. To borrow yet another analogy, did any of you fuss when you donned the uniform of your high school or college sport’s team? You may have disliked how something rode up in the wrong place, or the shortness or tightness of an item, but you didn’t mind wearing it. Your parents may have gulped when they wrote the check. But they did it. It was worth it.

Why? First, it was an accomplishment. You were proud of where you were, and you were excited about the history of that school and program. It identified you as part of something. We want the Raggants to feel the same way – they are all a part of something BIG and AWESOME. I will try to tease it out in a future article, but we even wear the plaid skirts as a nod to Scottish Presbyterians who planted Classical schools as they moved across the country. There is history and weight here, and we want to rejoice in that (and identify with the Scots, because….haggis. And golf.).

Second, it was the accepted and pragmatic uniform for the sport. We wore these hideous full-body leotards in crew because you didn’t want anything catching in the shell (and chafing is a beast). Swimmers wear suits that will minimize drag. In the same way, uniforms help us to minimize academic drag – we are here to work – we are here to be part of the team – we are here to learn and fight and win and be proud of the whole process.

Third, uniforms are a representation of something–we identify uniforms with teams and countries and cities–if we are doing things right, the longer our students wear uniforms, the more they love them because the more they love what the uniforms represent. Of course it could all dissolve into high-flung legality and high-nosed pomp, but that’s part of why we are the only school on the PLANET who wear a little, tubby, basset-hound-unicorn-rhinoceros on our uniforms. It’s just downright cool, and it helps keep us in our place.

Finally, uniforms are utilitarian. They make it easy to tell who is who in the parking lot or on the court. They make dress code enforcement far easier, and mornings less complicated. In the long run, especially with a system and numerous offspring of the same gender, they save a good deal of money. They (hopefully) reduce the stress and pressure of the Fashion tyrants who exert their iron will in back-to-school sales and commercials.

Uniforms carry the force of tradition and weight of history–from the slums of Haiti, where students without enough food still get dressed in crisp uniforms on school days, to the robes and jester-hats of Medieval Professors, we stand with them. Uniforms are, in the end, just exterior. But like a squire who finally proves himself worthy of knighthood, as our graduates lay aside navy cardigans and white button-up shirts, our hope is that they will do so with a sense of fondness–a thankfulness for the training they received in those uniforms, training which now well equips them to don new uniforms in new adventures.

–Mrs. Bowers

Why Latin?

The following article was written by the Unruly Headmaster, Mr. Sarr, and is included in the Raggant Standard from February 7, 2017.


Lately I’ve had a couple of curious parents ask me respectfully and sincerely why we study Latin. A lot has been written about this subject, and much of it is very helpful.

Let me commend to you a couple of very accessible resources:

  • An article from Memoria Press entitled “Why Latin is Not an Option.” One snippet: “[It] is the ability of Latin to teach students how to think that is the most underrated of its benefits. A grammar-based Latin study is not simply a grammatical study, but an exercise in what modern educators like to call ‘critical thinking skills.'”

  • Dorothy Sayers’ essay “The Lost Tools of Learning.” If you’ve never read this, do yourself a favor and read it. If you have read it, and you’re still wondering why or what it is we do, it’s worth revisiting. One taste: “I will say at once, quite firmly, that the best grounding for education is the Latin grammar.”

And there are lots and lots more, but those two are a good start.

Now that I’ve done that, let me offer a few (quite unoriginal) thoughts of my own…many of which have been inspired by the above (and other) resources.

  • Latin is the most important language of Western Civilization. (And yes, I realize the New Testament was written in Greek.) We’re Westerners, we love the West, and our love for the West helps us to better love other cultures. And if the whole story of the West had to be told in one language, it would be Latin. When we look at the great books of Western Civilization, almost all the writings are either Latin, contribute to Latin, or were written by Latin speakers.

  • Latin grammar aids in English language mastery. Generally speaking, students who can make sense of Latin parts of speech and who can capably translate a Latin sentence are well- equipped to make sense of English. Additionally, most polysyllabic English words come from Latin. As an added bonus, learning (Latin-based) romance languages (i.e., Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian) after mastering Latin is far easier than without a prior study of Latin.

  • Latin requires precision. As an inflected language, Latin is far more precise than English. Depending on its endings, a Latin noun can be identified as a subject, direct object or indirect object. And in order to apply the proper ending, the Latin student must first know what an indirect object actually is. But this also frees up the speaker or writer to switch around word order for particular emphases.

  • Latin is a classical language. And classical education requires the studying of a classical language. Otherwise, it’s the studying of new and old stuff in an old way. The study of Latin has only fallen out of vogue in the last few generations; it served our fathers very well, and has contributed in no small way to our Protestant and Western heritage. When we study Latin, we study the language of Virgil and Calvin. And when our students are fluid readers of Latin (as is our ultimate aim), they will not be at the mercy of translators when engaging with many of the most influential works of our culture.

I wish I would have studied Latin when I was in school. It would have made my English studies (my college major) more interesting and easier. It would have made learning Spanish (my college minor) simpler, as well. But I’m thrilled that my kids are getting something that I did not. And they’re well on their way to surpassing their father in this way, too.

We still have some wrinkles in our Latin program and offerings that we continue to work out, but we’re convinced that, as G.K. Chesterton famously said, “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly,” until we can get good at it. Latin is worth working for, and our children will be better off for it.

Risus est bellum! (That’s Latin.)
Mr. Sarr

The Nuts and Bolts of Education

These are notes from my talk about the Trivium at last week’s Information Night.


One of the best things about the daily nuts and bolts at our school is that we have separate bathrooms for boys and girls. I don’t start this way to get a laugh or to cause a shock. Gender specific facilities are important for modesty—though that’s not my primary reason for mentioning it. They are important for morality—though sin doesn’t depend on any given door being closed.

I bring up the distinction between male and female because we cannot have true learning or lasting culture without it.

Of course we couldn’t have following generations without male and female because humanity requires sexes in order to reproduce. Efforts to deny observable biology are efforts that destroy not only individuals, but also the future where any individuals could exist.

But I bring up male and female because God created and identified us that way.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26–27, ESV)

This means that part of bearing God’s image is being social, a reflection of the “us” and “our” in verse 26. We are made in the likeness of the Triune God. This also means that both males and females are equally image-bearers. They are different, so they receive different names and different responsibilities, but neither man or woman is more like God than the other.

It also assumes that our image-bearing relations and image-bearing responsibilities require us to acknowledge what God has made and what God has said. Boys and girls share some things yet they do not share all things, nor are they interchangeable. To deny or even to confuse this truth is to deny or confuse any possible foundation for learning.

After the poetic, lyrical celebration of male and female in Genesis 1:27 (if our culture succeeds at obliterating the distinction, what kind of songs will we be left with?), God gave a mandate.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28, ESV)

We must must receive the definitions and boundaries created by God. What are animals? What kinds are there? What are we supposed to do with them? What is dominion? What can we subdue? What are we going to eat (see verse 29)? These are necessary questions, but if we won’t accept the created realities of male and female, realities that are self-evident and Spirit-revealed, how can we be trusted with anything?

A classical Christian education begins with basic facts like these. It is called the Grammar stage of the Trivium (which means “three ways”), and it acknowledges that every subject of study has created realities or historical realities or revealed realities. We are not trying to rewrite or redefine. We’re receiving what God has made, what God has done, what God has said.

Birds and fish and bugs, planets, and plants are all different, as are the letters and phonograms of the alphabet. Numbers classify and quantify objects and ideas, narratives show truth in a different way. These are particulars to be acquired.

The school board is reading a book by Gresham Machen, Education Christianity and the State, and he lamented that so many school systems (in 1925!) want kids to be thinkers but the teachers don’t give them anything to think about. “It is impossible to think with an empty mind” (p 7). No facts and no figures because they aren’t fun. There is no est, only non est.

[Such a student can] not succeed in unifying his world for the simple reason that he has no world to unify. He has not acquired a knowledge of a sufficient number of facts in order even to learn the method of putting facts together. (p 4)

New things are collected all the time at every stage, but collection is the special focus of our Grammar School. The youngest students delight to soak in dates and names and conjugations by song and chant and sound-off and reading. They learn about the sun and moon, right and left, right and wrong–in math and morals. They are taught definitions about masculine and feminine, without which they cannot decline any Latin nouns.

The second stage is the Dialectic or Logic stage. The emphasis during these years, roughly corresponding to Junior High, is less on collection and more on categorizing, less on soaking in and more on sorting out. Students are taught formal logic, learning what constitutes an argument, what is valid, what is sound, and what is empty or false.

In her essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning,” Dorothy Sayers tipped her hand:

It will, doubtless, be objected that to encourage young persons at the Pert age to browbeat, correct, and argue with their elders will render them perfectly intolerable. My answer is that children of that age are intolerable anyhow; and that their natural argumentativeness may just as well be canalized to good purpose as allowed to run away into the sands.

During this time students are systematically exposed to various ideas and worldviews, especially through the classical works of ancient, medieval, and even some modern literature. They’re learning to see what fits and what is false. They are able not only to distinguish between male and female but also to develop convictions about it.

The third stage is known as the Rhetoric stage. While students are always answering or writing or performing, the emphasis of this stage happens in the last few years of high school. Students learn things to think, how to think things through, and then how to express their thoughts in speeches and papers.

This is a time not just to know the truth or to defend the truth but to adorn the truth. Even as male and female, men and women ought to be adorned differently. We not only recognize a difference between genders for sake of bathrooms and uniforms, but even in what we want them to become. Both our young women and our young men should be well educated, both bearing the glory of God’s image, and both expressing things that the other can’t and shouldn’t even try to do.

The classical model values the Trivium as scaffolding for the building. The blueprint itself comes from God’s Word. He has said, He has given, He has created, so we give thanks and receive and study and steward. The Trivium helps teachers cut with the grain as students are generally suited to soak in and sort out and speak up as they mature.

  • Grammar – learn the good; know and enjoy things (res) as they are. Collect and comprehend.
  • Logic – identify and distinguish the good from the bad; account for things, put things together. Consolidate and cultivate convictions.
  • Rhetoric – fight for and persuade others to love the good. Consecrate ourselves, our talents and knowledge for letting our light shine before others so that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven.

Google may be able to marshal facts, but it can’t train a student in logic or rhetoric. Without grammar logic falls and rhetoric is vacant. We’re educating our students with all three.

We start by acknowledging Christ as Lord and Savior, and then acknowledging our identity and created definitions by God. Otherwise learning collapses in a heap of inconsistent relativities and society ceases because no one even knows what male and female are, let alone which bathroom they should use.

Mr. Higgins

Platonic Hammers

The following article was written by Mrs. Bowers and is included in the Raggant Standard from January 11, 2017.


I grew up watching This Old House with my Dad. I actually couldn’t care less (then and now) about nuances of carpentry or dovetailed joints, but I loved spending time with my Dad, and the information proved invaluable when working at Home Depot and smugly telling a pretentious lumber associate that OSB stood for Oriented Strand Board.

The other valuable thing I learned while watching carpentry shows with my Father was the need for the right tools – and the many uses for those tools. I learned about the basics like socket wrenches. I was amazed at the power of a radial arm saw, or the beautiful application of a lathe.

Recently during a Sunday morning sermon, Mr. Higgins asked parents, “What do you want your children to be?” In light of your child’s education, as you round the final proverbial lap with your eighteen- year-old shaking Mr. Sarr’s hand and clutching an ECS diploma, what type of soul do you want to see?

As parents and educators for both young women and men alike, we need to establish – perhaps simply daily remind ourselves – of the foundational goal of classical education. It is not to get a good job, get good grades, make good money, or even change the world. It is not geared to boys more than girls; the intellectually gifted nor the intellectually different. The end construction project all these tools are aiming at – what we want our students to be – are worshippers who glorify God. We desire to aid young people in their love, devotion, adoration, service, and delight in the triune, magnificent Almighty. Every algebra equation should be a small peg upon which to hang their wonder of fractals and bodily chemical equations and reactions – every diagrammed sentence a tiny glimpse of the Word that spins spider webs every day and the intricacy of language and relationships – every music class a mini-study of Three-in-One, diversity in unity, the necessity for major and minor chords in all things. The main point of classical education for parents, educators, and administrators is the carpenter him or herself: a full-bodied, fully-equipped, fully individualized sub-creator.

But this formative process is hard, and really, you have to believe that Latin actually does influence you as a worshipper of God – otherwise, why are you here? Why are you panting along the marathon? The 5K is just around the corner, and it’s free. As your son or daughter stands with their metaphorical tool bag before you, see the future carpenter first. See how education shapes and strengthens the hands, heart, mind, and soul. See that education is about virtue and character.

Then, look to the tools themselves. At ECS, we are trying to give your student a huge variety of tools; each young man or woman will use those tools differently. You have to trust that reading Plato equips a student for engineering and for mothering equally. The application will vary wildly, but as your student reads hard books from Kindergarten to 12th grade, educators are placing a powerful tool in the child’s bag. Let’s say it’s a hammer. Basic. Essential. Wildly useful. Your 12th grade son graduates and goes on to an Ivy League university where he seeks to become a biologist. He encounters Evolution in his survey class, and all of a sudden he pulls out the hammer and uses it for an application he hasn’t before: when the professor states Darwin introduced Evolutionary Theory, the student asks about the influence of Socrates on Darwin. Bang.

Your daughter graduates from a great school, gets a job, and then marries at twenty. Though she and her husband weren’t planning to have children right away, just nine months later, at the age of twenty-one, they are blessed with a glorious little soul. This soul begins growing, and one day in the wake of the child’s uncle dying, late at bedtime (when children become profound philosophers), he asks about heaven. He is scared of death, and Heaven is just some nebulous cloud in the sky. The young mother, rocking her child, begins to tell him of a Real World, where everything is solid, where there are un-fallen Forms of strawberries and grass so real it would hurt your feet now to step on it. She asks, “Will you help me pick real Strawberries and make Real pie in Heaven? All this, dear son, is but Shadows – Heaven is the Reality.” Bang.

So thank you for trusting us to help teach your child the difference between a phillips-head and a slotted screwdriver; thank you for helping bind up paper cuts and nurse weary muscles; thank you for dealing with the sawdust of intellectual fallout and the splinters of irritating math equations. Thank you for seeing that the carpenter and the carpentry is worth it, because we are part of the far bigger Building of an infinitely good Builder.

Mrs. Bowers

Making a Contribution

I gave the following address at our Convocation on the first day of school.


I had a roommate in college who loved to play SimCity. Even though I’ve never been a huge video game sort of guy, he let me play every so often and it was strangely fascinating. At that time, SimCity was a fairly new game without the niche variations available today.

“Sim” in SimCity stands for “simulation.” It means to imitate or make a computer model of something. The goal of the game is to build a thriving city, keeping digital citizens happy and maintaining a stable budget. You, as mayor, start with a given amount of capital and you choose where and what to build. You need transportation (roads, railroads, airports), power companies, stores, schools, and homes for all the people. As the population grows, you also need an adequate amount of police stations and hospitals to keep people safe and healthy. Even in the two-dimensional world, without the complexities of personalities, it gave a bit of appreciate for the challenges of setting up a society.

screenshot

Unlike SimCity we live in the world where your thumb hurts if you hit it with a hammer, not because you smashed the controller buttons too many times. Here there are life and death consequences without a reset or reboot. Even more unlike SimCity, we are not the architects of humanity, we’re not city mayors or presidents, and certainly we are not God. We do not get to make all the decisions even if we thought we knew all the ways to guarantee a glorious future.

However, even though we don’t get to be the boss, we are all called to build. We don’t get to start with a full back account and open fields, but we do get to invent and design and fix and remodel and renovate. We are cultural construction workers. We’re not building in order to make it nice for Jesus when He returns. We’re building because this is what Jesus made us to do.

As we start our fourth year of Evangel Classical School, I want to remind us who we are, what we’re trying to do, what we’re up against, and why we work hard with humility and laughter.

You are the imago Dei, the image of God. Each one of you, students, parents, and teachers are mirrors of God Himself. God revealed our reflective nature in the story of creation. According to Genesis 1 He made a world for men and then He made men to be makers in the world. Dorothy Sayers wrote the following in her book, The Mind of the Maker:

[W]hen we turn back to see what he says about the original upon which the “image” of God was modeled, we find only the single assertion, “God created.” The characteristic common to God and man is apparently that: the desire and the ability to make things.

The reason you color, cut and paste, write and paint, sing and dance, is because the creative impulse beats in your chest. At some point drawings are not only art for the front of the refrigerator, they become blueprints for better refrigerators. You cut paper made from trees and later you cut trees to make paper. You sing tenor in the school choir and then someday you give your report on the city council; both are better when you contribute your part.

God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and take dominion. What He had made was great and yet He wanted them to make more great things. God made little makers with minds and hands. You bear God’s creative glory as you create.

ECS exists to equip and encourage culture creators, or at least culture contributors. It takes faith to see how a kindergartner chanting phonogram jingles could one day write a novel that shapes the thinking of generations better than Virgil’s Aeneid. But phonemes become graphemes via penmanship which turns into published books. You will learn names and dates and places, not only so that you can rule at Trivial Pursuit (which you could), or even so that you can be thankful for the good foundation we stand on (which you should), but also so that you would want to do your part in these days in this place.

Not only can we honor Christ in our work, we must work if we want to honor Him. We’re made to make.

Again, we don’t reign on earth as sovereign kings and queens, but we are poets and plumbers and pilots and parents. We do flavor and preserve and influence and shape the world. If you want to be a Christian doctor or nurse, we want you to know the skeletal, muscular, nervous, sensory, reproductive, digestive, circulatory, immune, respiratory, and endocrine systems. We also want you to know in your bones that God loves life. If you want to be a Christian lawyer–and why wouldn’t you?–we want you to know the true law, to love righteousness and hate evil. If you want to start a business or write books or build buildings, then believe that God is pleased with those who do such culture construction.

It is true, however, that all image-bearers are also the bearers of bad news. We are all mirrors of God’s glory, but we are also all broken mirrors due to sin. Sin is what ruins our plans and spoils our relationships. You will, at some point, prefer laziness to labor. You will choose to be angry with a classmate who disagrees with you, or a teacher who corrects you, rather than serve or learn. You will seek to grab rather than contribute. This happens because of sin. The reason the world is so messed up is because of sin.

But we have a Savior. It is of first importance that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. This is the evangel. He saves us and is sanctifying us to be like Him, which includes enjoying and using all the things He has made. Math? He created the problems. Logic? He is the Logos. Poetry? His invented language and lovers and flowers and rhyme and rhythm. Biology, history, Engrade, recess soccer? He is Lord over them all.

One more thing. ECS is a training ground for cultural contributors. You will (hopefully) bear much fruit after you graduate. But you are also creating now. Working hard is never wasted. Loving one another now is loving one another. Confessing rather than covering sin is building, not destroying. The stakes are high, the Savior is great, the new school year is here. It’s not a simulation game. Let’s get to work.

More Fruitful Than Treebeard

I gave the following address at our year-end assembly last Friday.


If you’ve read The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, you no doubt remember Treebeard. He’s a great character, helpful, slow to decide and to speak and to move, but full of conviction. He also offered tasty things to drink to guests. I’m sure his beard was quite a beauty (it was part of his name after all) and have tried to model my beard accordingly.

Treebeard lived in another world but some seeds of his kind have been brought into ours. I’ve seen some of the seeds. I’ve even seen some of the saplings, though I’ve only seen a few full-grown trees. They aren’t exactly ents, but they are descend-ents. A few of these trees live in the woods though most are city dwellers. Unlike ents, these trees put down roots to stay. They don’t have mouths but they talk. Their branches don’t move but they go all over the place.

With the right care, over time the trees grow and their branches wind through the windows and doors of whatever building they’re near. Eventually the limbs will lengthen throughout a whole house, winding through hallways and up stairs and elbowing themselves into every room. You can try to trace the tributaries back to the trunk, but you can’t really tell the twists apart, nor, strangely, do you really want to. Rather than upset the owner or cause him to think that it’s time to prune the tree, the growth of the tree makes him happy. When the boughs get bigger it doesn’t squeeze the space, it actually seems to make everything bigger. The one’s I’ve seen have been quite magical.

In the kitchen, the branches grow pomicultural pleasures. You can see reds, yellows, oranges. You can taste sweet like grapes, sour like lemons, and salty like tomatoes. The fruit can be squeezed into so many juices and baked into so many pies and sliced over so many bowls of cereal. Whether breakfast or dinner or snacks, the tree gladly shares its yield and makes the table a place of laughter and satisfaction.

In the family room, the tree blooms into many flowers with a medley of shapes, sizes, and smells. It’s an indoor garden, with scents that remind you of lavender and lilac but different. Your nose makes you think of rain on dirt, but somehow clean. It seems almost every day as if there are new subjects for entertainments, a new eyeful to see and study. Visitors and family alike enjoy the show.

In the bedrooms, the tree makes the most comfortable resting places. Sons and daughters have their own spots, soft like futons of feathers, with full-body leaf blankets that breathe for crispy-cool summer nights and warm on the wintry ones.

Of course, outside the house the tree springs to the sky; you feel like you can climb it into giant clouds. It also furnishes swank shade. The only tension under its care is in the hammock. Otherwise it’s a glass of lemonade, a novel, or a nap. The greatest parties are thrown under trees like these.

At this point I must confess that I’m so unskilled at thinking imaginatively that the story above is more of an illustration. I’m also so impatient of a fiction attempter that I feel the need to explain and encourage non-fiction style.

I have seen such trees, but we don’t call them trees. These trees are magical, though, maybe more accurately, they are supernatural. The seeds exist. Each one of you students have received this seed, but it is something inside of you that causes you to grow. You are the tree and your education as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ is the seed, the sunshine, the water. You are growing and your life branches out through all the house. As you leave these school walls for the summer, you will continue to grow and change every room you enter.

Your branches flower with Narnian colors. Your branches smell like Uncle Frank, Fat Frank the fairy, the Chestnut King, and Henry York’s baseball mitt. Your branches have walked with Pilgrim to the Celestial City and walked with Hitler into Moral Insanity. Your branches have attended to the principles of Independence and the perils of Revolution. When the breeze blows through your leaves it sounds like the song of Genesis through Joshua or man’s chief end. You’ve gotten moody about verbs and scrambled ham and eggs in Latin poetry. Your branches have sounded out phonograms, found 800 word essays on blank screens, chased levels of letters on a keyboard, read a book about How to Read a Book, and experienced a millions of dollars Music Project. These are great things that put Gatsby’s life to shame.

When you walk into the kitchen or sit down at the dinner table, you flavor family conversations. You tell stories and jokes and make observations and bring laughter all around. In the living room you play games and watch shows, but you add context that the Kratt brothers can’t. In your bedroom you go to sleep with dreams of great things. And outside you become a source of games and merrymaking. You aren’t the fussy or boring or bullying kid on your street. Others seek your driveway or front yard for protection and a party. Neighbors light up when you go out to play.

This is not a way to think about your life that is make-believe.

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
(Psalm 1:1–3, ESV)

So now is your summer break from school. But it is a season for you to continue to grow and flourish with more fruit than Treebeard.

A Political Act

1984A happy marriage is a political act. (Note: the adjective is key in the previous sentence.) George Orwell meant as much in his dystopian novel, 1984, which the Omnibus class has been reading the last couple weeks. The totalitarian State prohibited–to the degree that they could–passionate marriages and sexual pleasure. Orwell’s main characters couldn’t vote for change but they could defy Big Brother by their adultery.

Their motivation, however, was strictly rebellion. Just do what you’re not allowed do to to stick it to the Man. Then you’re truly free. But in opposing bondage to the State Winston and Julia chose another bondage, the bondage of sin. They could not liberate themselves by their defiance, let alone anyone else, less because the government was so powerful and more because they chose to believe a different set of entangling lies.

Their misunderstanding, and Orwell’s himself, doesn’t change that the committed life of one man with one woman and their honoring the marriage bed is indeed a political act. It makes a statement to both neighbors and the nation. Such union is an embodied claim that says the president and politicians and police do not have the authority to make or break marriage however they desire. A male and female in covenant one-fleshedness are enfleshing theology. Husband and wife, then father and mother, are God-instituted relationships for the glory of the human race. This is a political act in that it declares that God is God, not the state. God is the lawgiver and not the people themselves or the lobby groups or big donors or liberal judges sitting on courtroom benches.

God instituted marriage as an incarnational reflection of His own Trinitarian, eternal relations as well as an illustration of the union between His Son and His Son’s Bride, the Church. How we love our wives, respect our husbands, raise our children, none of these are invisible, let alone hopeless acts. Through them we pledge our allegiance to the Father and Son and Holy Spirit.

Thankfulness and the Trivium

The following remarks were presented at our recent Information Night for prospective families.


What is missing most in most education? For me, my public schooling was more like a week-old donut hole: bite-size, dry, and missing much of the context. I missed many great books, in part because I didn’t read what I was assigned and in part because significant others weren’t assigned. I missed a definition of revolution and how our war against the British wasn’t properly one. I missed logic–formal and in blue jeans. These are just samples. But what I missed most was teaching to thankfulness.

We learned things but we didn’t have anyone to thank. To be consistent with the materialistic, evolutionary worldview that drove what we did, learning shouldn’t have been fun, it was merely in order to survive and advance. But if God created all things and sustains them by His Word, then every page of every lesson and every fact on earth is a gift. That’s how to get kids excited. Unwrap the present that is parts of speech and scientific classification and counting by tens and A Tale of Two Cities and see the tag “From: God.”

This is the advantage of Christian education. The Christian God gives. More than blindfolding students from unrighteousness in the world, teachers at a Christian school work to open eyes to see God’s glory in the world. We give thanks for Christ and through Christ and to Christ. Not anything that was made was not made by Him. It’s all His. He rules it. He cares about it. He gives it to us to enjoy and use.

So Christian education is not only learning the Bible but also learning how to see all the things we have to be thankful for. (And perhaps learning how to not end sentences with prepositions. Or split infinitives.)

How do we get all of it in? We can’t. We’re finite. But what kid rejects a gift because it is too big for his hands? We try to get a hold of as much as we can, and the process we use at our school is the Trivium. Here is the advantage of classical education as it follows the “three ways.”

The Grammar stage is nonstop collecting, ubiquitous capture, building mental shelves and loading them. During the elementary years we teach the ABCs and 1+1s and Genesis one and Romans one and details about wars and who won. The students drink up as much as possible from the ocean of knowable things. But it tastes sweet because it’s gift for which we can be grateful. The 10 Commandments, Egyptian history, Latin declensions, math investigations, Narnia, these are all notes and lyrics and parts for our songs.

At this age, one readily…rejoices in the chanting of rhymes and the rumble and thunder of unintelligible polysyllables; one enjoys the mere accumulation of things. (Dorothy Sayers, “The Lost Tools of Learning”)

For example, this year our grammar students in Bible class are learning a ten minute song from Genesis to Joshua that includes events and dates and Bible chapter for the six days of creation, the call of Abraham, Joseph as a slave in Egypt, the plagues, the Exodus, and the Ten Commandments. Our kindergarten students are learning a rhyming rap about counting by tens. Our second year Latin students are translating Green Eggs and Ham (or Virent Ova! Viret Perna!). This is a lot of work, but it is not burdensome because we receive it as good from God.

Next comes the Logic stage, a phase that trains for attentive assessment. We do not often think of a junior higher as distinguished, but we can help him to be a distinguisher. Students learn formal logic, a thing to be thankful for itself, as a way to spot lies in what the world says to be thankful for (i.e., personal autonomy) and what the world says not to be thankful for (i.e., God’s laws). Students take the store of information they’ve collected and dissect it, debate over it, and come to some conclusions about thankfulness.

It will, doubtless, be objected that to encourage young persons at the Pert age to browbeat, correct, and argue with their elders will render them perfectly intolerable. My answer is that children of that age are intolerable anyhow; and that their natural argumentativeness may just as well be canalized to good purpose as allowed to run away into the sands. (Sayers)

The Rhetoric stage is persuasive presentation, not learning to dress up like an insincere salesmen but rather learning to adorn the truth and win others to thankfulness for it. Not only can students avoid being manipulated by advertisers and media propaganda, they can articulate the truth better.

The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious
and adds persuasiveness to his lips.
(Proverbs 16:23)

This year our older students have read works such as Pilgrim’s Progress, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and others to see what rhetoric looks like driving down the road. We recently read The Communist Manifesto and observed how it argued for a worldview of envy, not thankfulness.

Is this classical approach to education (the Trivium) particularly Christian? It is when it runs on the energy of gratitude and to the goal of gratitude. That said, we acknowledge that unbelievers can and do learn and teach many things. We even know how that’s possible.

Common grace is what happens when God allows non-believers to participate in and enjoy that which could not be true if their view of the universe were true. Common grace is the blessing that results when God allows non-believers to be inconsistent. (Doug Wilson, Why Christian Kids Need a Christian Education)

Non-Christians can give thanks, but they can’t give thanks consistently. And Christians can only give thanks consistently because of the evangel (a great name for a school). The gospel frees us from discontent and opens our eyes to see God. We are thankful for open eyes, and we are thankful for all the things our now open eyes see that God has given.

Thankfulness keeps us sharp, always receiving (from God who doesn’t stop giving), always discerning (from the world who doesn’t stop lying, or from our own sin that keeps whining), and always declaring. Following the Trivium we learn how to keep learning, in particular, how to keep growing in our appreciation for truth, goodness, and beauty.

Classical Christian education isn’t a bore or a chore. It keeps kids interested because it’s all for them and shapes their loyalties to the Father of lights who gives every perfect gift. For that we can be thankful.

The Door

I gave the following address at our end-of-year assembly on June 5th.


This year Mr. Sarr, Mr. Bowers, and myself (on Thursdays) read for you 100 Cupboards and Dandelion Fire during lunch. The Chestnut King is next and I’m sure it’s first in the queue for lunch breaks next year. N.D. Wilson’s trilogy works wonders for the imagination and I wonder if any of you have tried out the cupboards at your house to see if they lead anywhere amazing.

Henry York discovered a route to other worlds by accident. Then he learned how to go where he wanted with the help of Grandfather’s journals. If he set both compass locks in his room to the right numbers, then the back of the cupboard in Grandfather’s bedroom opened to whole chapters of stories. Badon Hill. Byzantium. FitzFaeren. Endor. Beautiful places. Bad places. Places for battle. Places of roots.

The Chronicles of Narnia tap a similar other-worldly vein. To get to Narnia at first, Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy pressed through the back of a wardrobe. They couldn’t always get it to open. Sometimes the way was blocked. But Narnia held lifetimes of stories.

Wouldn’t you like to have one of these cupboards or closets in your house? Or at least know a friend who did? What if you didn’t have to wait for plaster to fall from the wall and find it by accident? What if you could go any and every time you wanted?

I am not asking these questions to tease you. I do want work up your hopes, but not in order to crush them. I’m not trying to trick you so that I can tell you to: “Grow up. Stop day-dreaming for make-believe places. Start living in the real world.” I am asking these questions because, if you’re interested, I might be able to help.

I’ve been doing some reading and I’ve been doing some looking around. I found the door. It’s here, at the school. If you want, I’ll tell you where it is and, if you want, you can go through it and spend your entire summer break in another world. You can live like Henry York Maccabee or Penelope or Anastasia or Uncle Frank or Aunt Dotty. Do you want to know which door it is?

It’s that one.1door

“Now wait a minute,” one of you says, “I’ve gone out that door over a hundred times this last year. That door leads to a concrete sidewalk and an asphalt parking lot.” You’re right. But maybe you’re not looking at it quite right.

The reality is that the greatest adventures are not the ones you choose but the ones that God writes for you. The best stories aren’t always the ones that shock you like sticking a paperclip in an electrical socket, but they will still put a charge into you. Will you see it? That’s the question.

G.K. Chesterton helps us to tumble our mental combination locks into the right place.

An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered. (All Things Considered, 41)

This springs from an essay he wrote titled, “On Running after One’s Hat.” Men think that chasing their hat in the wind is a headache, a hassle, a bother. Why? Why not see it as a delightful and fun game? Why not join the game and play? Do you suppose that once you walk out that door, something (or someone) will be a bother to you at some point this summer? If yes, then you are ready for an adventure.

In another essay (“On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family”) Chesterton observes,

A man has control over many things in his life; he has control over enough things to be the hero of a novel. But if he had control over everything there would be so much hero that there would be no novel. (Heretics, 83)

The things are that out of our control make for the great stories. Gilbert argues that the most out-of-our-control elements, (so, according to him, the place where stories come alive), are found on our street, with our neighbors and with our family. Think about your family first.

When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we also step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which could do without us, into a world which we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family, we step into a fairy-tale. (82)

He also addresses why it is so much more exciting to live on our own streets then to take a trip to Timbuktu in search of adventure. Some men (and kids) want to travel, want to explore far-off places thinking that there they will find thrill and escape boredom. A boy such as that

says he is fleeing from his street because it’s dull; he is lying. He is really fleeing because it is a great deal too exciting. It is exciting because it is exacting. It is exacting because it is alive. (78)

The real adventure is living with and interacting with the ones you can’t get away from. The stuff of stories is loving your neighbor, the ones out your own front door.

We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbor. (79)

God also makes your brother. And your sister. And your mom and dad. God will appoint each of you to backseats of cars or on benches around kitchen tables with beings who will live forever. That’s wild. There is a catch, though. You only have a short time to enjoy the ride.

You will go out that door and away from school for three months. What stories will you have to tell when you return? Epic love for those who weren’t kind to you? Heroic endurance of cleaning your room until every thumb’s width is organized? Poetic joy, a Tolkien like song about your faithfulness to obey your parents?

May God protect you and bless the pages of your summer chapter, raggants included.


  1. Any ol’ door will work. At this point in my address I pointed to our customary point of entrance and exit.